Ezekiel 34:11-16,Ezekiel 34:20-24 11 “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. 12 I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. 13 I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. 14 Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice! 20 “Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will surely judge between the fat sheep and the scrawny sheep. 21 For you fat sheep pushed and butted and crowded my sick and hungry flock until you scattered them to distant lands. 22 So I will rescue my flock, and they will no longer be abused. I will judge between one animal of the flock and another. 23 And I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. I, the Lord, have spoken!_
When I was around five years old, my mom bought a tape with Christmas Carols. One of the music in the tape was “Santa Claus is coming to town.” You know Christmas is the biggest day for kids because it is the day when they can get free gifts except for their own birthday. To me at that age, Christmas was a really important day of year. You all know the lyrics of the song, “Santa Claus is coming to town.” It goes like this, “You better watch out, You better not cry, Better not pout. I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town. He’s making a list. He’s checking it twice; He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. Santa Claus is coming to town.” If we read this without that cheerful melody, the words of this song are more like a warning, aren’t they?
I sang the song millions of times and the song taught me that I need to behave because otherwise Santa was not going to give me gifts! Haven’t you thought about what if Santa is not coming to my house when you were little ones? It is like a countdown to be judged how I lived that year. In the lyrics, the song says, “He is making a list.” I always troubled with that part. He is making a list….of what I have done this year? The bad things and good things? It sounds like I need to have a responsibility for my own deeds. So, around this time every year, I started looking back on my behavior over the year and tried to make up some by behaving well in November and December so that when Santa weigh my good behaviors and bad behaviors he can willingly come to my house and give my gifts. So my mom could have a better daughter in the last two months than the precious ten months.
Today is the last Sunday of November. Since church calendar newly starts in December, today is the last Sunday of a year. And the church calendar calls the last Sunday of a year “the Christ Sunday.” Christ is the King after all. And the church lectionary has four readings and all of the four readings say that Jesus is coming back to judge us!
When I was in middle school, one day, my teacher asked me and my friend to do something for her. She asked us to help her clean our cabinet that had full of stuff in there. So after school, my friend and I started cleaning the cabinet. The teacher had a meeting so she had to leave us for a while. As she was leaving she said, “The meeting will last about an hour. So I will come back by then.” So she left, and we were cleaning her cabinet will full of interesting stuff that she used for her class and put them in and left there forever. It was fun! It was real fun to take some of the stuff out and mess up with them. So we gradually became addicted to having fun with the stuff like we took colored chalks and drew on the floor with the chalks. We took her old photo albums and saw every picture in the album, …You know, those kinds of small stuff. Also she had a little punch that makes a hole on paper. We punched lots of color papers with that. Also she had different kinds of stamps. They were so cute. Of course we stamped on every paper. Then we got a little bored so we went to the class room window and drew a little things with water-based marker. It was fun! Everything was okay. We were just going to have a little fun and then clean every mess that we made before she comes back. She is never going to know what happened, and everything will be fine. We will be the good girls who helped their teacher with passion. But you know what? This kind of things always get caught, right? She came back 20 minutes early. She came back right when we were drawing an octopus on the window with color markers. I still remember her angry look. She was not so happy with us messing up with her markers, papers, stamps, a punch, everything!
The passage that we read together tells us that God will judge us. Let’s read out loud. (slide 1) “Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will surely judge between the fat sheep and the scrawny sheep.” (Ezekiel 34:20, NLT)
Every time I hear “judgement”, it sounds not nice. Don’t you think so? When we talk about someone and we say, “The person is judgmental”, it means the person is not loving, or say mean things to others. When we sing the song, “Santa Claus is coming to town,” when we hear that Santa is making a list to decide whether to give gifts or not, we feel like he is so judgmental. At least I felt that way. I mean Santa Claus, you are dealing with young kiddos, Do you really have to do that? Then, let’s think about God who is going to judge us someday. All of us know that God is love. God IS LOVE. God is love itself. God is just nothing but love. So when the love is coming to judge us, what will be like? We are not sure, but at least we know that it won’t be like what people do. Love judges us with mercy and grace. Sounds so cool.
In today’s passage, God is so passionate to talk to the Israel about God’s coming to them. God is speaking to them that God is coming not only to judge but to save them. The tone of God’s speaking is so eager and intense. Let me read the passage. Feel the passionate tone of God speaking to the people of Israel. How passionate God sounds like.
(slide 2) 11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. (slide 3) 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. And let’s read out loud together. (slide 4) “16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”
I love this last passage. God says, “16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.” The lost, the strays, the injured, the weak, hey here I come to get you, to save you. Don’t worry, everything will be fine. God says, I will search for you, I will rescue you. And if you are injured, I will heal you. I will look after you. I will strengthen you. Can you feel how passionate God sounds here? This is a love song for God’s people, God’s lost sheep.
And God continues to says this, “But the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.” God says, I will shepherd the flock with justice. Justice is misphat in Hebrew. It means(slide 5) “Justice (mishpat) is the expected response of God’s people to what God has done for them.” Justice is that we give back to others what we’ve got from God. We receive bountiful grace from God, so we give what we’ve got from God to others. We share what we’ve got with others. That is, the Bible says, justice. Justice is that we pay forward, not pay back.
When Jesus talks about final judgement in Matthew 25, he says he will separate people as a shepherd separates sheep from goats, and say to the sheep, “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’(Matt. 25:24-26, NLT) And the righteous people says, “Lord, when did I do that to you?” Then Jesus replies, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ (Matt. 25:40, NLT) And Jesus continues to say, “These are the ones who go to eternal life.”
When we pay forward with what we’ve got from God, God sees it. Love and justice is, after all, both sides of the same coin. Justice is that we give forward what we’ve got from God, and God is Love. So justice is that we love others. It can be just a smile, a hug, a bowl of soup. It can be prayers, tears, words of encouragement.